Monday, Aug 8, 2005
Rangers responded to three backcountry emergencies on Saturday, August 6th. With the assistance of the Teton interagency contract helicopter, rangers flew a severely ill backpacker from Upper Paintbrush Canyon on Saturday morning at 8:20 a.m. Almost three hours later, at approximately 11:15 a.m., rangers evacuated an injured climber from Mount Moran, also by helicopter. Then, beginning around 5:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, rangers conducted a third rescue - this time using a wheeled litter - near the Phelps Lake Overlook in Death Canyon. The Paintbrush Canyon rescue began on the night of Friday, August 5th. Sarah Wedge, 21, of Baltimore, Maryland, became extremely ill due to the combined effects of altitude, heat and severe dehydration while backpacking with three companions in Upper Paintbrush Canyon. One of these companions, Carolyn Hopkins, a Grand Teton Lodge Company employee, contacted Teton Interagency Dispatch at about 10:00 p.m. on Friday night after Wedge's condition deteriorated to a point where she was too weak and ill to continue. Rangers advised the party of first aid techniques they could perform to re-hydrate Wedge, but her condition became steadily worse. Two rangers hiked to her location late that night and provided advanced emergency medical assistance. When Wedge's condition did not improve substantially by morning, rangers asked the Teton interagency contract helicopter to respond and fly her to the valley. The helicopter arrived on-scene at a temporary staging area near Holly Lake around 8:00 a.m., and rangers situated Wedge inside for evacuation. A park ambulance met the helicopter at Lupine Meadows and transported Wedge to St. John's Medical Center. Later Saturday morning, 49-year-old Jerry Painter, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, and three other climbers were ascending the CMC Route - a popular climbing route on the east face of Mount Moran, rated 5.5 - when Painter was struck on the head by a sizable rock that was dislodged by climbers above. The rock broke Painter's helmet and he sustained injuries to his head and neck. The party was on the first pitch of the climb and had reached an elevation of about 11,500 feet when the accident occurred. Steve Bohrer, also from Idaho Falls and one of Painter's climbing partners, called for help via cell phone at 9:15 a.m. Rangers immediately began to coordinate a rescue, while the group of climbers moved Painter to a more secure area out of the way of further rockfall until rangers could reach them. Due to the nature of Painter's injuries, his disoriented state of consciousness and the group's remote location, rangers asked for an assist from the interagency helicopter. The helicopter flew four rangers to a staging area on the Falling Ice Glacier, then inserted one of these rangers to Painter's location using the short-haul method. This ranger loaded Painter into an evacuation suit and attended him while the two were short-hauled back to the staging area at the glacier. Rescue personnel at the glacier moved Painter inside the helicopter for the flight to Lupine Meadows, where a park ambulance was waiting to transport him to St. John's Medical Center in Jackson. From there, Painter was flown by air ambulance to Idaho Falls for treatment of his head injuries. While Painter sustained serious injuries, his use of a helmet, combined with a rapid evacuation, likely saved his life. At 5:10 p.m. rangers received the third call for assistance, this time from Death Canyon near the Phelps Lake Overlook. James Mackey, 55, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, was suffering from heat-related illness and dehydration and was experiencing intense cramping on the switchbacks about 200 yards below the overlook. Mackey's symptoms were so severe that he was unable to walk on his own. A backcountry ranger on routine patrol in Death Canyon encountered Mackey and called for assistance. Two rangers drove the ambulance to the trailhead and ran to Mackey's location to provide emergency medical assistance. Dr. Will Smith of Jackson, Wyoming, the park's medical director, supplied advice and consultation by phone, as he had during the previous two rescues. Three more rangers were immediately dispatched to the trailhead; they quickly reached Mackey and transported him to the trailhead using a wheeled litter. The waiting park ambulance took Mackey to St. John's Medical Center at 6:50 p.m. The two helicopter evacuations mark the eleventh and twelfth major search and rescues in Grand Teton National Park this year.